Last year against Miami, an undermanned Blue Devil squad only had five healthy players and was forced to forfeit both a doubles and a singles match. What a difference a year makes.
Playing with a fully healthy squad, top-ranked Duke gave away no freebies Sunday, stealing a hotly-contested doubles point en route to an impressive 6-1 win against the No. 14 Hurricanes at Ambler Tennis Stadium.
"I told our team after the doubles that we took their best punch right there," head coach Jamie Ashworth said. "I really don't know how we won the doubles, to be honest with you."
Miami (14-4, 8-2 in the ACC) held 5-4 leads on all three doubles courts before Duke made its move. At third doubles, junior Annie Mulholland and freshman Chalena Scholl claimed the final three games against Stephanie Wagner and Lina Lileikite for Duke’s first point. With the fifth-ranked duo of Hanna Mar and Beatrice Capra fighting off match points in first doubles, the Blue Devils (20-1, 10-1) had to turn elsewhere to claim the doubles victory.
The 24th-ranked duo of junior Ester Goldfeld and freshman Alyssa Smith was up to the task. Facing a game pair of Hurricanes in the 28th-ranked pair of Melissa Bolivar and Kelly Laurente, Duke held at 6-7 to force a tiebreak after a favorable net cord at 15-30. The duo then roared to a 7-2 victory in the breaker to claim the match.
"There's a big difference between 30-all and 15-40, of course," Goldfeld said. "Alyssa and I just built on that, and I think we got a little bit of confidence from that point. We brought a little more energy, and that definitely helped us."
For a coach who has emphasized doubles from the start of the year, Sunday was a great sight.
"We just kept battling. Every time we were down a break here, a break there, and we stayed in there, and we made the girls from Miami play," Ashworth said. "I thought we held our composure really well and that was a big thing for us, and then [we used] the momentum from the doubles [to do] a good job at the start of the singles."
Duke ran out its deluxe singles lineup, sporting all four of its ranked players as well as the now-healthy Scholl at second singles, and the squad simply overwhelmed Miami.
Scholl was the first to claim a singles victory Sunday, her second of the weekend. She thoroughly dominated No. 49 Laurente en route to a 6-2, 6-3 win.
Perhaps more importantly, Scholl’s return allowed the remainder of the Duke singles lineup to slide down, a transition that proved effective. The 24th-ranked Goldfeld was able to take a break from the No. 2 spot to play third singles, where she rolled 6-2, 6-4 against Clementina Riobueno. Goldfeld’s win was her eighth in a row.
"I've been working a lot on being more aggressive and coming to net," Goldfeld said. "I felt like I was moving well and hitting my serves well. Just an overall good day."
At sixth singles, Monique Albuquerque was able to keep the Hurricanes alive, topping Duke’s Rachel Kahan 6-2, 6-2. But soon, Duke’s 12th consecutive win was in the books.
No. 89 Smith won at fifth singles to give the Blue Devils the overall victory, besting Bolivar 6-2, 6-2. Seconds later, Mar, ranked 31st nationally, posted a win against Lileikite at fourth singles by the same scoreline.
In the final match of the day, No. 5 Capra and No. 61 Wagner waged a war at first singles, splitting the first two sets. Capra then fell behind 7-3 in the match tiebreaker before roaring back to claim an 6-2, 4-6, 11-9 victory.
Sunday's victory was the Blue Devils second of the weekend, as Duke had no trouble dispatching one of its Triangle counterparts, sweeping N.C. State at home Saturday without dropping a single set.
The Blue Devils rode their first and third doubles squads, who notched identical 8-2 wins. Mar and Capra knocked off N.C. State’s Joelle Kissell and Sophie Nelson, while Scholl and Mulholland topped the Wolfpack’s Nicole Martinez and Natalia Janowicz.
Even with top players Capra and Goldfeld taking the afternoon off in singles, Duke had no problem against the Wolfpack (7-9, 1-8). The success started at the bottom of the ladder for the Blue Devils, with the squad claiming straight-sets wins at fourth, fifth and sixth singles to secure the match victory.
The top three spots were more contested as the Wolfpack rallied in the second sets, with each set going at least 12 games, but Duke still emerged unscathed. Smith defeated Martinez 6-1, 7-5 at third singles, and Scholl, playing first singles for the second consecutive match, beat Kissell by the same scoreline. Mar completed the sweep at second singles with a 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) win against Rachael James-Baker.
Having a healthy Scholl back is crucial for the Blue Devils, and this weekend was a big step in the right direction for her.
"She's getting better every match," Ashworth said. "Every time we step on the court she's getting better and better and smarter. Every day she's a day healthier and I'm sure that when we play on Friday she'll be better than she was today."
With three matches remaining in the regular season, Duke still has work ahead to remain in good position among the crowded ACC field.
"There's a ton to play for, and we're trying to give ourselves days off in the ACC tournament," Ashworth said. "But this team does a really good job about taking it one match at a time."